allure

The quote of the once-faddish computer-game dysfluent English “All your base are belong to us” that I used in yesterday’s note on merry led me to think about allure. Not because I was wondering what the allure is of such games but just because of the sonic resemblance of all your to allure.

Part of the allure of English, for people who like to play with language, is of course its inconsistencies. And allure figures among them. It makes me think of adult, not because allure is an adult thing – though it’s probably more often seen in reference to “adult” things – but because, just as adult is a word that may make you stop and think how you want to say it (“ADult? aDULT?”), so is allure.

The opening a is fairly unproblematic. Generally it’s said as a schwa, that mid-central reduced vowel we often use in English in unstressed positions; if we don’t want to reduce it, it will probably be said as /æ/ as in hat. But it’s the second syllable that brings in the variations. Mostly it depends on your dialect, but there are still options. And I think many a Canadian has used – or even puzzled over – several or all of them at one time or another. It’s all about the end of the word (after the /l/). Is it like “you” plus /r/, or like a clearly said “you’re”, or like “oo” in fool plus /r/, or like “u” in full plus /r/, or does the vowel fold into the following liquid so the second syllable is /lr/? And will it depend on the context and the price of the item in question? Will you say it differently between “I don’t understand the allure of Justin Bieber” and “Not needing a car is part of the allure of living downtown” and “Succumb to the timeless allure of this beautiful art”?

The pronunciation is indeed liquid – it is not quite fixed, but it always has those two liquid consonants, /l/ and /r/. And it has certain allure to its look. Those paired l’s add a tall, lean something, like pinstripes or the legs of a willowy miss or a champagne flute or… Well, parallels are available.

We have a few particular ways we like to use this word. We will use it when analyzing some thing: its allure, its central allure, its timeless allure, its exotic allure… Often we will talk about an aspect of something that is part of its allure. We will talk about something that has lost its allure; we will talk about trying to understand the allure of something. And a thing may often be said to hold a unique (or special, or considerable, or…) allure. When we account for the allure, we say it lies in something. As in The allure of English lies in its flexibility and inconsistency.

Which is to say that’s what draws us. We hunger for it (we being not everyone but the sort of person who reads this sort of thing). We return to it like the falcon to the falconer. After all, when you train a falcon, you feed it from an apparatus of thong and feathers called a lure (from Old French leurre, from a Germanic word for “bait”), and it learns to come to the lure; add a meaning “to” to lure and you get (with a doubling of the joining consonant) allure.

Which is fair enough. If you succumb to the allure of something – be it lovely scenery, a unique voice, a fashion magazine (called Allure, for instance), a cruise ship vacation (on the Allure of the Seas), or even just a pair of lovely eyes – you take the bait. And then all your base are belong to them.

One response to “allure

  1. The allure(uh-lyurr)of your post reminds me that many, although not all, words in English are really doublets in pronunciation within each dialect. The choice is both situational and contextual, emphasis having a great deal to do with it; imperatives. interrogatives, declaratives, et al. Makes it tough on those outlanders who claim that English is a simple language without grammar, innit? Or is that just one of its uh-loors? I always use loors when I’m fishing on the fly.

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